More than 170 public health organizations issued a letter today to Congressional Conferees urging them to maintain the House-passed level of funding for prevention and wellness programs in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, according to a press release from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). The final U.S. Senate version of the bill removed all funding for these programs.

The funding in the House stimulus could directly save or create more than 20,000 public health jobs, says TFAH. As states, local governments and communities are hit with economic hard times, they have already laid off more than 11,000 public health workers and left over 10,000 jobs vacant, and at least as many layoffs are expected in the coming year. In addition, by funding the expansion of targeted, effective community-based disease prevention programs, additional new jobs will be created directly in the communities they are serving. The funding would support existing programs, where mechanisms are in place to get the money out quickly so it can have an immediate impact on the economy.

“Thousands of public health jobs hang in the balance,” said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). “These public health workers are the ones we rely on to hold the community health safety net in place as the number of unemployed, uninsured and underinsured Americans is growing by the day.”

“We should also remember that the funding for public health goes way beyond protecting and creating jobs. It’s also a down payment toward reducing health care costs over the long term, keeping Americans healthier and more productive. Containing health care costs is one of the most important factors for improving the U.S. economy. Supporting prevention and wellness is one of the smartest investments we could be making, and we hope Congress will do the right thing and maintain this funding in the final bill,” Levi continued.

To read the full text of the letter supported by more than 174 public health groups, visit http://healthyamericans.org/newsroom/releases/?releaseid=159.